Madison, WI-based photojournalist Lianne Milton first went to Guatemala in 2002 as a student. She was hooked after that first visit and soon went back after receiving a three-month scholarship that allowed her to study Spanish and continue her photography. Since then, Lianne has always kept an eye on Guatemala as a country she knew she’d return to. And she has.
In 2007, Lianne returned to Guatemala for a special project on women migrants and domestic abuse. Now, she’s back once again to continue documenting life in Guatemala. This time, she’s focusing on postwar violence. She says,
I was ultimately led to this topic mainly because there has been so much focus on violence in Mexico, that the people living in the triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been completely forgotten by mainstream media. In the bigger picture, they’re all connected, but countries like Guatemala have very little support to handle such big, big problems, combined with a very weak and corrupt infrastructure. In a culture of impunity and violence, the people here have very little opportunities to make a better life. It’s important to show the need and their stories so that those in the States and elsewhere are informed, aware, and motivated to do something. People not only migrate to the States for work but to flee violence that stems from drugs. And as long as Americans have an appetite for drugs, the problem will persist.
Lianne is currently in Guatemala for six weeks to work on this project. It’s far from an easy task, and comes with much danger. Lianne explains how she attempts to capture the results of violence,
I ride along with the firefighters to get access to homicide scenes. The people don’t trust the police, so it’s safer for me to do it this way. Plus firefighters have big hearts! I’m also photographing forensic anthropologists exhuming bodies from mass graves. I’m trying to capture a sense of emotion, loss, distress, insecurity, etc. Photographing adjectives to get a sense of what it feels like. My struggle is also to photograph in a way that doesn’t look like Mexico. Even though the stories are similar with violence, Guatemala has a culture of violence and impunity because of civil war. People here believe that you can almost do whatever you want because those crimes go into a little black book and nothing is done about it.
Her shoots have been challenging, with subjects sometimes getting too dangerous to pursue or get access to. However, she is passionate about the project and wants to continue it. Lianne now hopes to collaborate with a foundation or NGO that works on similar issues as herself, so her work can be used productively and to incite change,
At the moment, I’m in the process of applying for grants to continue this story because I self-fund all of my projects. It gets pretty expensive. I would also like to see this in magazines, of course, and exhibited to put Guatemala back on the map. The more eyes on these issues, the more the government will start to take accountability (I hope) and therefore inspire action.